Martha J Groom, Associate Professor, Conservation Biology, Ecology

Teaching Philosophy


When asked to define my goals, I feel that above all I am trying to educate citizens how to access and evaluate information about environmental issues, and place their choices in a regional and global context. To achieve this end, I seek to enhance students' critical thinking and communication skills, while fostering their understanding of the process of science and its integral concepts and methodologies. I strive to use inquiry-guided and other interactive-learning approaches to help connect students to course material. Importantly, I encourage group work and discussion to prepare students for lifelong collaborations in seeking understanding.

As I design class sessions, I focus on elements that have made both the concepts and the process of science come alive to me. Often it is in exploring the contrast of several situations that new ideas most engage me, so I create units that are built around case studies to explore new conceptual areas or methodologies. Both in class and in take-home assignments, I encourage students to devise protocols to investigate new questions and couple these with group discussions. These exercises are undertaken not in the spirit of answering a particular question, but of learning how to pose and test questions, and how to work as part of a team to solve problems. Because I feel that it is important to expose students to quantitative thinking through the explicit use of simple mathematical models, I assign problem sets and computer exercises in my classes. Often students are able to pose questions that are not easily answered by direct study in nature, or are forced to more rigorously define their questions and refine their approaches via trying to describe their questions using a model. I try to interject short writing and discussion exercises into all my class sessions. Not only is this more interactive style more effective in getting students to enjoy and learn the material, but it also significantly improves their ability to think critically.

Because my principle goal as an educator is to help empower our citizens with the skills to understand complex scientific issues that affect society, I constantly relate the material in my courses to current issues in the lives of my students and those of national and global importance. We discuss the importance of ecological inquiry for solving environmental problems we face in many spheres, and the difficulties of developing policy based on human needs, ecological understanding, and political or social contexts. We also discuss the ethical dimensions of these issues, in terms of implications on global, national, regional and personal scales.

In all my teaching, I strive for excellence through an emphasis on problem-solving and an understanding of both the limits and promising tools of our fields. I seek to challenge and stretch my students, both in the classroom and in mentoring situations, as much as possible. I bring in the latest scholarship to the class, and challenge students to understand and evaluate these newest developments. My own broad and active scholarship has been indispensable to my teaching success, for it is due to my own efforts in these fields that I am informed about new developments, and see the significance of political events for the application of science to conservation.